What Does ‘Listening to Your Body’ Mean, Anyway?

Every time I send clients their training program for the week, I find myself telling them, “Don’t forget to listen to your body!” Since I’m doing online training, I’m not usually able to monitor my clients’ form or identify whether something is particularly challenging for them. I’m also not able to intuit quickly whether their physical or mental state is just not up to the workout I have planned for them.

When you’re training someone in person, you get to know all the movement patterns of their body. You can see when you need to cue something differently. You can pretty quickly tell if they are compensating for an injury, soreness, or because they’re not sure they can do something and are afraid of hurting themselves. And that’s one of the best parts of having someone train you – you are paying them and trusting them to listen to your body. But if you don’t have the option of in-person training, how do you learn to do that yourself? And what does listening to your body mean, anyway?

What Does Listening to Your Body Mean?

What does listening to your body mean, anyway? Personal trainer tips on how to read your body's cues when you're working out.

4 Tips On How to Listen to Your Body

  1. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re attempting something physically challenging – you should feel discomfort if you’re pushing yourself hard. Discomfort and the soreness associated with it is different from pain, though. If there is any sensation of acute pain, a sharp pain, or a painful sensation that you haven’t felt before while working out, stop. Your body is telling you there is something wrong.
  2. If you are going into a workout feeling sore from the last time you exercised, don’t give up on your planned workout too soon. This is a common mistake of ‘listening to your body’ – if it’s sending you ‘ouch’ signals, so long as it’s not acute pain (see above), working out will probably actually help your recovery, thanks to increased blood flow. Instead, lengthen your warm up so your joints are well lubricated before working out, then try your planned workout. If you feel like the weights are too heavy, or the pace too fast, or it’s just too intense, then by all means, scale back a little. Just don’t be afraid to try!
  3. Be aware of what is going on in your life that could be affecting your body. Sometimes you just have a crappy night’s sleep. Or you wake up for a workout feeling heavy and sluggish (or hungover) because you overdid it eating and/or drinking the day before. If it’s a one-off occurrence, then follow the tips for feeling sore – increase your warm up, attempt what you had planned and make a judgement call based on how you’re feeling. If, however, insomnia or poor sleep is the norm for you, or you’ve been consistently feeling weak, in a bad mood, or unmotivated, these may be signs of overtraining. If you are overtrained, you can kiss goodbye any improvements in your strength or endurance until you take a big step back and let your body rest and recover fully.
  4. Don’t discount the effect of the time of day on your workout. Maybe you’re a morning person but you start work so early you can only work out at lunch or in the evening. Or you force yourself to get your exercise done early even though every fiber of your being is crying at being awake too soon. Sometimes you have to suck up the time available to exercise and do the best you can to make the workout productive. But if you can find different times available to work out, or you can experiment with your workout schedule, it doesn’t hurt to see if your body just responds better or feels stronger at a certain time of day

The good news is that as you become consistent with your workout schedule and you’re making progress in your goals, you’ll notice you are picking up on cues your body is sending you that you may not have noticed before being active. Don’t make the mistake of trying to work through any kind of pain you know (or suspect) deep down isn’t quite right. I promise, no goal you’re working towards will benefit from you pushing yourself through pain and developing an injury. A few days rest in the short term will not set you back nearly as long as recovery from injury will.

Do you listen to your body when working out?

Have you ever given up too easily, or not quit when you should have?


  1. Such good reminders! I think this is a hard balance for people to find and either quit to soon or push too hard.

  2. This is so true! We all need this reminder often. I did not listen to my body and got burned out and I’m getting back on running again.
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